image from mousecircus.com
I've knocked off yet another book in my continuing endeavor to read the Newbery award-winning books. This time around it is Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (2010). As with the previous Newbery books I've read, I focused on what I can learn in my own writing from this book.
The opening of the book leaves a toddler abandoned thanks to a grisly murder scene. He wanders out of his out, losing his diaper along the way, and ends up at the local graveyard. While the scenario is preposterous, it sets up one of the more interesting settings I've read in the Newbery winners so far. The boy (nicknamed "Bod" for "Nobody") ends up raised by a collection of interesting ghosts and undead creatures. While he appreciates his home, he longs for a life among the living - and he wants to find out what happened to his family.
However, we are left wondering through most of the book why Bod's family was murdered and when the answer comes, it is abrupt and unsatisfying. As for Bod's dream of a life outside the confines of tombstones and crypts, this is also undermined by the author. Gaiman clearly relishes describing the world of the dead and ends up making the world from which Bod wishes to retreat more interesting than the one to which Bod dreams of going.
Thus the lesson I learn about writing is to make setting and location an important part of the book, but not one which overwhelms the story. My latest project, tentatively titled Abigail's Atlantis, will delve into the ocean and the famous lost underworld city. It will become crucial to make sure that while I try to capture the wonder and awe of such a fabled location, I don't do it at the expense of creating a moving and involving story.